The Easy Shots

The Crown-of-the-head shot. Might be okay, but I really want to see who this is.
Easy shot. The Crown-of-the-head shot. Might be okay, but I really want you to see who this is.

A few months ago I had a great conversation with a friend of mine who happened to be a photo editor. I was looking for feedback and he was willing to help. One nugget of wisdom he gave regarding climbing photography was not to shoot the easy stuff. It was something about not sending him images from Indian Creek. He said, “People shoot it because it’s easy,” or close to that. I believe the editor was implying that he sees tons of shots from the Creek and that if an image of a single pitch route from the area had a chance at being used it had better stand out otherwise it would be swimming is a sea of similar photos.

Two guidelines ignored. Shot from the anchors of the route and this thing has been photographed more than enough, but I still shot it.
Easy shot with two guidelines ignored. Shot from the anchors of the route and this thing has been photographed more than enough, but I still shot it and dig it. Swimming in the sea.

This is kind of a subjective. I have peers who believe fixing a line and jugging it at any crag is too much work. Whether it’s up the talus cone in the Creek or at your local roadside crag they would consider it more effort than it’s worth. I take the stance that it doesn’t take too much energy to set up a fixed line for single pitch routes, but do believe if you don’t practice shooting “easy” climbing shots now you’ll be unprepared when you go out to get the harder ones.

Easy shot taken from the ground. Wish the climber were wearing brighter clothes.
Easier shot taken from the ground. Wish the climber were wearing brighter clothes and we could see their profile.

 

Easy shot from the bolts of adjacent route. Love the shot, wish he had a bright shirt on...
Easy shot from the bolts of adjacent route. Love the shot though it might be better if he had a bright shirt on…

The first images I took from a fixed rope didn’t turn out. In fact they are totally forgettable. In the beginning I was so excited to be shooting from above and so focused on the mechanics of ascending and descending that I let composition and peak action fly out the window. I quickly realized that if I were going to be any good at this I would have to put some thought into it.

Easy shot from the top of a route way off to the side.
Easy shot from the top of a route way off to the side. This is not the Creek.
Easy shot from the route adjacent to.
Easy shot from the route adjacent to.

I started by asking questions before I left the ground. Has this route been photographed before? (As a rule I try not to shoot routes that I have seen photos of, but make exceptions from time to time.)  Are there interesting angles to shoot from the ground? Does the route favor one side of the climber or the other? How’s the light? Where’s it coming from? How’s the background? Will it be distracting or will it add something? What color is the rock in relation to the climber? Will they stand out enough? The next lesson learned was that shooting from a line fixed to the anchors of the route you are shooting doesn’t (most of the time) really work. There’s a lot of talk about the dreaded butt shoot, but have you heard about the crown-of-the-head shot? There’s nothing more disappointing after you have set up your line and jugged repeatedly to only come home with countless images of faceless climbers. Yes, one of these shots might be interesting, but a whole day of shooting these will bum you out. Getting to the side, clipping a bolt, placing gear and using the anchors of the route next to it or even further seem to do the trick.

Not as easy single pitch from tree off to the side.
Not as easy single pitch from tree off to the side.
Harder shot. Easier with someone rope gunning for me. 300 feet of the deck.
Harder shot. Easier with someone rope gunning for me. 300 feet of the deck.

Practice, practice, practice on the easy shots translated well when the shots became harder. I recall shooting a route in Death Canyon. Our party of three climbed up five or six pitches before I set up my line. As I weighted the equalized anchor of cams and lowered out over a 1000 feet of air I was happy to have spent so much time shooting the “easy” stuff. It may not be the best shot, but I am certain I have never seen this image before…

What do you think the difference between an easy and hard image is?

Hard shot? I think it qualifies. Five or six pitches of climbing with camera and rigging equipment, leading through and building a belay, lowering, then jugging and shooting… Never been used.
Hard shot? I think it qualifies. Five or six pitches of climbing with camera and rigging equipment, leading through and building a belay, lowering, then jugging and shooting… It’s never been used.